Neural Systems and Behavior

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An intensive eight-week laboratory and lecture course focusing on the neural basis of behavior, including the cellular and synaptic levels, sensory and motor systems, neurogenetics, and the analysis of complex systems.


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Now showing 1 - 4 of 4
  • Article
    Molecular profiling of single neurons of known identity in two ganglia from the crab Cancer borealis
    (National Academy of Sciences, 2019-12-05) Northcutt, Adam J. ; Kick, Daniel R. ; Otopalik, Adriane G ; Goetz, Benjamin M. ; Harris, Rayna M. ; Santin, Joseph M. ; Hofmann, Hans A. ; Marder, Eve ; Schulz, David J.
    Understanding circuit organization depends on identification of cell types. Recent advances in transcriptional profiling methods have enabled classification of cell types by their gene expression. While exceptionally powerful and high throughput, the ground-truth validation of these methods is difficult: If cell type is unknown, how does one assess whether a given analysis accurately captures neuronal identity? To shed light on the capabilities and limitations of solely using transcriptional profiling for cell-type classification, we performed 2 forms of transcriptional profiling—RNA-seq and quantitative RT-PCR, in single, unambiguously identified neurons from 2 small crustacean neuronal networks: The stomatogastric and cardiac ganglia. We then combined our knowledge of cell type with unbiased clustering analyses and supervised machine learning to determine how accurately functionally defined neuron types can be classified by expression profile alone. The results demonstrate that expression profile is able to capture neuronal identity most accurately when combined with multimodal information that allows for post hoc grouping, so analysis can proceed from a supervised perspective. Solely unsupervised clustering can lead to misidentification and an inability to distinguish between 2 or more cell types. Therefore, this study supports the general utility of cell identification by transcriptional profiling, but adds a caution: It is difficult or impossible to know under what conditions transcriptional profiling alone is capable of assigning cell identity. Only by combining multiple modalities of information such as physiology, morphology, or innervation target can neuronal identity be unambiguously determined.
  • Article
    Multisensory and motor representations in rat oral somatosensory cortex
    (Nature Publishing Group, 2018-09-10) Clemens, Ann M. ; Fernandez Delgado, Yohami ; Mehlman, Max L. ; Mishra, Poonam ; Brecht, Michael
    In mammals, a complex array of oral sensors assess the taste, temperature and haptic properties of food. Although the representation of taste has been extensively studied in the gustatory cortex, it is unclear how the somatosensory cortex encodes information about the properties of oral stimuli. Moreover, it is poorly understood how different oral sensory modalities are integrated and how sensory responses are translated into oral motor actions. To investigate whether oral somatosensory cortex processes food-related sensations and movements, we performed in vivo whole-cell recordings and motor mapping experiments in rats. Neurons in oral somatosensory cortex showed robust post-synaptic and sparse action potential responses to air puffs. Membrane potential showed that cold water evoked larger responses than room temperature or hot water. Most neurons showed no clear tuning of responses to bitter, sweet and neutral gustatory stimuli. Finally, motor mapping experiments with histological verification revealed an initiation of movements related to food consumption behavior, such as jaw opening and tongue protrusions. We conclude that somatosensory cortex: (i) provides a representation of the temperature of oral stimuli, (ii) does not systematically encode taste information and (iii) influences orofacial movements related to food consummatory behavior.
  • Preprint
    Sexually monomorphic maps and dimorphic responses in rat genital cortex
    ( 2015-09) Lenschow, Constanze ; Copley, Sean ; Gardiner, Jayne M. ; Talbot, Zoe N. ; Vitenzon, Ariel ; Brecht, Michael
    Mammalian external genitals show sexual dimorphism [1,2] and can change size and shape upon sexual arousal. Genitals feature prominently in the oldest pieces of figural art [3] and phallic depictions of penises informed psychoanalytic thought about sexuality [4, 5]. Despite this longstanding interest, the neural representations of genitals are still poorly understood [6]. In somatosensory cortex specifically, many studies did not detect any cortical representation of genitals [7-9]. Studies in humans debate, if genitals are represented displaced below the foot of the cortical body map [10-12], or if they are represented somatotopically [13-15]. We wondered, what a high-resolution mapping of genital representations might tell us about the sexual differentiation of the mammalian brain. We identified genital responses in rat somatosensory cortex in a region previously assigned as arm/leg cortex. Genital responses were more common in males than in females. Despite such response dimorphism, we observed a stunning anatomical monomorphism of cortical penis and clitoris input maps revealed by cytochrome-oxidasestaining of cortical layer-4. Genital representations were somatotopic, bilaterally symmetric and their relative size increased markedly during puberty. Size, shape and erect posture give the cortical penis representation a phallic appearance pointing to a role in sexually aroused states. Cortical genital neurons showed unusual multi-body-part responses and sexually dimorphic receptive fields. Specifically, genital neurons were coactivated by distant body regions, which are touched during mounting in the respective sex. Genital maps indicate a deep homology of penis and clitoris representations in line with a fundamentally bi-sexual layout [16] of the vertebrate brain.
  • Article
    Structure, function, and cortical representation of the rat submandibular whisker trident
    (Society for Neuroscience, 2013-03-13) The, Lydia ; Wallace, Michael L. ; Chen, Christopher H. ; Chorev, Edith ; Brecht, Michael
    Although the neurobiology of rodent facial whiskers has been studied intensively, little is known about sensing in other vibrissae. Here we describe the under-investigated submandibular “whisker trident” on the rat's chin. In this three-whisker array, a unique unpaired midline whisker is laterally flanked by two slightly shorter whiskers. All three whiskers point to the ground and are curved backwards. Unlike other whiskers, the trident is not located on an exposed body part. Trident vibrissae are not whisked and do not touch anything over long stretches of time. However, trident whiskers engage in sustained ground contact during head-down running while the animal is exploring or foraging. In biomechanical experiments, trident whiskers follow caudal ground movement more smoothly than facial whiskers. Remarkably, deflection angles decrease with increasing ground velocity. We identified one putative trident barrel in the left somatosensory cortex and two barrels in the right somatosensory cortex. The elongated putative trident-midline barrel is the longest and largest whisker barrel, suggesting that the midline trident whisker is of great functional significance. Cortical postsynaptic air-puff responses in the trident representation show much less temporal precision than facial whisker responses. Trident whiskers do not provide as much high-resolution information about object contacts as facial whiskers. Instead, our observations suggest an idiothetic function: their biomechanics allow trident whiskers to derive continuous measurements about ego motion from ground contacts. The midline position offers unique advantages in sensing heading direction in a laterally symmetric manner. The changes in trident deflection angle with velocity suggest that trident whiskers might function as a tactile speedometer.